HOW ABOUT US?
“Investigate us too.” This was the appeal of Mayor Vicente Loot of Daanbantayan town in northern Cebu and former Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama who, in 2016, were both publicly identified by President Rodrigo Duterte as among the country’s alleged ille- gal drug protectors but have never been formally charged. Loot and Rama were hoping to meet the same fate as Cebuano businessman Peter Lim who was also linked into the illegal drugs trade but eventually got off the hook after the case against him was dis-
missed by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Task Force on Illegal Drugs for insufficiency of evidence.
“I’ve been pleading to authorities to investigate me. How can I clear my name (if there’s no probe)? That is the sixty-four-dollar question,” Loot told CEBU DAILY NEWS over the phone on Tuesday.
Loot, also a retired police general, said he earlier submitted an affidavit to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Manila after he was mentioned by self-confessed drug lord Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr. as among those who received protection money from him.
However, Loot has not heard any word from the NBI since then.
“I also went to the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, asking these agencies to investigate me, and yet nothing happened,” he said.
“Investigate me as if you wanted me jailed or killed. I’m serious because that is the only way to clear my name,” he added.
Like Loot, Rama said he and his family continued to be weighed down by the humiliation they suffered from the accusations made by no less than the President of the country, even if these were not substantiated.
“Grabe na kaayo ang akong giagian (What I am going through is too much). I’m telling you, I am almost losing my self-esteem because I am accused of something I have not done,” he told CDN in a separate interview.
Rama said he was dismayed because he continued to be labeled as a drug protector since no formal investigation was ever conducted against him.
“What is there to investigate when there is no complaint filed against me? For me, this is no longer about what we call ‘time heals.’ I believe justice is coming because God would not allow bad things to happen to anyone who is innocent like me,” he said.
“That is why I am lifting everything to God,” he added.
Rama, who served as mayor of Cebu City from 2010 to 2016, appealed to President Duterte to make an effort to find out whether or not the contents of the drug list he received and announced were reliable.
“Before somebody will murder me, the President should take action because if it’s not for his unfair and irresponsible pronouncement, things like these will not come up,” said Rama in reference to a tarpaulin that presented him as the next target of an assassination plot.
The tarpaulin, which was placed on a skywalk in Barangay Pardo, Cebu City last month, showed a 2016 photo where Rama took his oath as member of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) party before the late Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando “Daddy Onik” Espinosa Sr., as Cebu’s Ronda town Vice Mayor Jonnah John Ungab looked on.
In the tarpaulin, the faces of Espinosa and Ungab — both of whom were killed in separate occasions — were marked with X. Rama’s face, on one hand, was encircled with a spraypainted text that read: “Ikaw ang sunod (You are next).”
The tarpaulin was taken down by Rama’s men immediately after he learned about it, as he raised concern over his safety.
“Just pray for me and be ready to deliver a eulogy. We’ll never know what will happen to me,” he said.
Meanwhile, the chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Central Visayas (CIDG-7) hoped the DOJ would reconsider its ruling and file the appropriate charges in court against Lim and Kerwin Espinosa, who along with Lim was also cleared of drug charges involving their alleged drug deal, and of several others who were linked to the illegal drugs trade in the Visayas.
“It’s not that we are hopeless because the resolution is still subject for review. Let us just wait,” said CIDG-7 Director Royina Garma.
She said it was the CIDG central office in Manila that conducted the lead investigation against Lim.
The CIDG-7, she said, was just tasked to gather information about Lim’s assets in Cebu. But Garma said they could only do so much.
“We did our best. We requested different agencies to provide us with information about his assets, but because of the Data Privacy Act, we failed to get what we wanted. Not even his bank statements was made available to us,” she lamented.
Garma admitted that she was not surprised with the dismissal of Lim’s case.
“I had reservations about the case because I read the affidavits of Adorco, but they were not as detailed as it should be,” she said.
The case filed against Lim by the CIDG’s Major Crimes Investigation Unit was solely anchored on the testimonies of Marcelo Adorco, one of alleged henchmen of Kerwin.
Adorco claimed that Lim supplied narcotics in “staggering amounts” to Kerwin Espinosa for more than two years. On June 4, 2015, Adorco said Lim allegedly met with him and Espinosa in Thailand regarding the delivery of 50 kilos powdered meth at the Cash & Carry parking lot in Makati City three days later.
But Lim was able to prove that he was not in Thailand and was instead hospitalized at Cebu Doctors’ Hospital in Cebu City for a kidney ailment on June 4, 2015.
Search for truth
Garma said the CIDG-7 is willing to file another case against Lim if there are new evidence that would prove the latter’s involvement in the illegal drugs trade.
“If there are people who would come forward and testify against Peter Lim, then why not? The problem is people who have knowledge about the illegal operations are either afraid or don’t even care,” she said.
While the dismissal of the case against Lim has yet to be reviewed by Aguirre, the Justice secretary already made an earlier pronouncement.
In September 2016, Aguirre revealed that the Peter “Jaguar” Lim who is listed as one of the top drug lords in the country actually referred to slain Cebuano drug lord Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz, and not the prominent Cebuano businessman.
Jaguar, Central Visayas’ top drug personality, was gunned down by police in Las Piñas City on June 17, 2016, two weeks before President Duterte assumed his post.
Aguirre said there was a mistake in the July drug matrix released by the President.
The Justice secretary said a cousin of Jaguar, Reynaldo “Jumbo” Diaz, who was arrested by police in Matnog town of Sorsogon in September 2016, confirmed that Jeffrey Diaz was the real Jaguar.
Garma said she was hoping that the truth will eventually come out.
“Hindi lahat ng totoo ay napapatunayan . In the same way na hindi lahat ng napapatunayan ay totoo. Only God knows the truth (Not all truth are proven, in the same manner that not all those that were proven are true),” she said.
Aside from Lim, the DOJ special task force also dismissed the charges against Kerwin, convicted drug lord Peter Co, alleged drug supplier Lovely Adam Impal, Marcelo Adorco, Max Miro, Ruel Malindangan, Jun Pepito, and several others who were just known for their aliases.
As part of the procedure, the entire records of the case shall be elevated to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II for automatic review.
Sen. Richard Gordon on Tuesday said he and other senators were dismayed by the move of the DOJ to dismiss the drug trafficking charges against Kerwin, Lim and the other respondents.
“Lahat kami sa Senado downhearted dahil paano maaabswelto yun eh inamin na nga (We, in the Senate, are downhearted because how could you absolve someone who already made an admission?),” he said in an interview.
During a Senate hearing on Nov. 23, 2016, Kerwin confessed to “distributing” drugs in the Eastern Visayan Region and even named his alleged suppliers, who included Lim.
Espinosa, however, pleaded innocent to drug charges during his arraignment before Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 26.
Gordon said Aguirre must explain why the DOJ dismissed the case of Kerwin and Lim.
“Kung ‘yang kaso na yan ay tungkol sa drugs, dapat magpaliwanag si Vit Aguirre. Lahat inaabswelto niya (If that case is about drugs, Vit Aguirre must explain. He absolved everyone in that case),” said Gordon, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, who investigated the drug case of Espinosa.
Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido, former chief of the Albuera police in Leyte and current director of the Ozamiz City police, was also disappointed with the dismissal of the case against Kerwin, Lim and the other respondents.
“I’m really dismayed because the DOJ did not give weight on the testimonies of Kerwin and Adorco. In fact, Kerwin could be a state witness against Peter Lim,” he said in a radio interview on Tuesday.
Espenido had filed separate charges against Kerwin over the latter’s involvement in the illegal drugs trade.
Not yet final
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in a press briefing at the Malacañang Palace on Tuesday, said the case against Lim, Kerwin and company was “far from being final.”
He also said the government would file additional evidence against the alleged drug lords if needed.
“We confirm that we are concerned over the dismissal of the complaint but like what I’ve just said, we still do not know the basis of the prosecutors why they junked it and the process is not yet over,” Roque said.
He denounced claims that the DOJ dismissed the charges against Lim because of his connection with Duterte.
“You know, the insinuations were unfair. Government officials are always invited to weddings and they are unable to choose who will be the wedding sponsors, the one who will decide are the bride and groom. So for me, those allegations are baseless, let us just let the DOJ proceed with its case,” Roque said.
Duterte and Lim stood as principal sponsors during the wedding of wealthy Cebu business couple, Yuri Ofek and Beatrice Borja, in June 2016.